Staff Columnist

When campaigns come calling, please be kind

Nasty responses to political texts serve no purpose

(Gazette photo illustration)
(Gazette photo illustration)

Advances in political communication technology have given rise to a new American tradition — the campaign organizer put-down.

Maybe you have noticed this phenomenon. Social media users post screenshots of their text message interactions with campaign staffers and volunteers, usually to highlight some hot take they delivered to the campaigners.

The first incoming text might go something like this: “Hi! This is John with the so-and-so presidential campaign. We have an event in your town this week. Can we count on you to show your support?”

If you don’t support the candidate, you might be frustrated at the unsolicited contact. Out of that frustration, perhaps you will bark back at the volunteer with some less-than-nice words to disparage the campaign and its supporters.

I have seen more than a few friends — who I know are kind and thoughtful in real life — upload images of their text interactions as a way to boast about their aptitude for trolling. It is decidedly not a good look.

Even worse, some campaign representatives are exposed to outright abusive behavior. Last year, the Guardian reported on the subject, noting cases where voters responded with pictures of male genitalia.

Campaign organizers have always faced hostility and rejection. Voters routinely slam doors on their faces, or say mean things on phone calls.

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Now, many of those interactions take a different form. Over the last few election cycles, campaigns increasingly have relied on text messages to communicate with likely voters.

As long as the messages are sent one at a time by real individuals, they are not regulated as strictly as notorious robocalls.

The prevalence of text messaging as a political tool has introduced a troubling new element to the biennial voter contact tradition. Smartphone screenshots give disgruntled voters the opportunity to capture their pithy put-downs and earn adoration from their political allies on Facebook and Twitter.

It is both confusing and disappointing that people feel compelled to broadcast their impoliteness. It’s entirely unclear to me what the end goal might be, since it seems extremely unlikely that rude messages will persuade a campaign organizer to abandon his or her work or shift allegiance to a different candidate.

I suppose some folks lash out because they feel unsolicited messages are an invasion of their privacy.

I spent much of 2015 knocking on doors and making phone calls in support of a Republican presidential candidate, which was my first experience on the instigating side of voter contact. At first, it made me uncomfortable and anxious to bother people at their homes dozens of times a day. But my anxiety dissipated after a colleague offered some valuable perspective.

In a representative government, voters exercise indirect but very real power over the lives of their compatriots — to impose taxes, incarcerate undesirables, regulate businesses and much more.

Iowa voters are especially privileged in the political system. Our first-in-the-nation caucuses are hugely influential in shaping the presidential nominating process, and candidates go to great lengths to cater to Iowans’ political whims.

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With that in mind, it is hardly an undue imposition for political activists to kindly inquire about your voting plans for the next election.

Iowa voters play an outsized role in picking the leader of the free world; a moment of civil discourse is not too much to ask.

l Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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